As I entered the kitchen this morning to make my much-needed hot tea, I saw the remnants of my son’s football-themed seventh birthday party. Presents and cards from friends piled up. Green-and-white streamers, paper footballs, a homemade team T-shirt left behind.
My husband and I have always tried to make birthdays special for our kids by hosting the parties at home. Our kids truly look forward to the moment when they see the decorations, the themed-cake (which takes me about seven hours to create), the games and crafts. They love it all. Even as my daughter approaches the teen years, she still cherishes the homemade party.
And yet, the party doesn’t make itself. It takes weeks of organization, shopping, ordering, and prepping. It is a task I love and fear all at once. How will I get it all done? If I spend all this time getting ready for the party, then I am not doing something at work. Or worse, I have to find a way to pact it all in.
I’m not great at finding balance. I came to this conclusion this morning when I work up exhausted. Headachy. Beaten down. I didn’t sleep well. I was too stressed about all I need to get done in the next few weeks. I have three conference presentations to write and present. I have two Halloween parties to organize and run. I have family dinners, school projects, and doctors’ appointments. I teach four weekly classes, I need to update my lesson plans. It all just feels like too much.
I often talk with other working moms about how they balance career and family life. What I have come to realize is that you cannot have it all. You can’t have a high profile career and make homemade goodies for every school-sponsored bake sale. You can’t travel for work and make sure that your kids have a healthy snack for lunch every day. You can’t make it to every class trip or art show or play and still meet all of your obligations at the office. You have to make choices and sacrifices.
I don’t care how many high-profile women (a la Sheryl Sandberg) pen best-selling books saying they have cracked the code. You can’t have a dream career, be successful at it and be able to be a full-time supermom. Somewhere, something has to give.
In my case —to be 100-percent honest—I haven’t cracked the code. I haven’t found a way to do it all. What inevitably happens is that I either try to do it all and find that I can’t (stress winds up trumping enjoyment). Or I give up doing something that I thought was important to me, like being a class parent, picking up from school, or making homemade _____ (fill in the blank).
Some working women are very driven by their work identity and are comfortable surrendering some of the day-to-day parenting tasks. Other women give up work altogether and devote themselves fulltime to parenting. These stay-at-home moms give up the idea of working outside of the home quite comfortably. Lastly, there are the moms (like me) who aren’t in either of those positions. I am not able to hand over a piece of work or a piece of parenting. This leaves me feeling perpetually behind the 8-ball—stressed, and feeling like I am not doing enough anywhere.
While I acknowledge my problems intellectually, I can’t find a way to change. I don’t know how to prioritize. It all seems important. I want to get tenure at work, which means doing more than just my job. But I also want my kids to feel like I was there for them in their childhood. I want them to remember the special touches—their birthday cakes, the handmade Halloween costumes, the Sunday dinners with family. I want them to know that, while I choose to work, I love them more than my job. I want them to know happiness in childhood so they can find it in adulthood.
I don’t know if I will accomplish my tenure or if I will give my kids the childhood I wanted them to have. For today, I will continue to walk the highwire trying to balance it all.
And I’ll try not to fall off.